Feeling anxious and worried? Kevin the rooster can warm the cockles – make that cockle-doodle-doos — of your heart.
Furry animals such as golden retrievers don’t have a corner on the therapy animal world. A feathery creature with comb, wattle, beak and claws can fit the bill as well.
Kevin is a resident at the substance abuse treatment program run by the McAlister Institute for Treatment and Education on the grounds of Napa State Hospital. He has plenty of fans among the clients who live at the center during their recoveries.
“He helps me calm down,” said Bianca Solorio recently. “I do breathing techniques and hold him. He’s calm. I feel like he can feel me – my emotions.”
Other clients wrote testimonials for Kevin to Jeanne McAlister, the CEO of the El Cajon-based McAlister Institute.
“I talk to Kevin all the time,” one wrote. “I pick him up and hold him and pet him till he falls asleep in my arms! He helps sooth my emotions for a while. And he’s funny when he runs to you, because he knows you have treats for him.”
One noted how Kevin each night jumps on the same tree branch and faces toward where the sun will rise.
“He kind of brings me back to reality, to be at peace, just with life on natural terms,” he wrote. “To watch him, how he lives in harmony with us. He walks and lives among us. He’s friendly and he’s one of us.”
The white andred, year-old rooster simply showed up at the center last July 1, said Josh Levy of the McAlister Institute.
“He was totally domesticated when he got here,” Levy said.
The rooster’s presence reminded Levy of an ad he had seen on Craigslist. This ad is an obscene rant by a person trying to get rid of a Kevin the rooster who bothered neighbors with 5 a.m. wake-up calls.
So the McAlister Institute rooster became Kevin simply because the name stuck in Levy’s mind. The local Kevin delivers 6 a.m. wake-up calls, but it’s no problem because the clients have to get up anyway.
“He’s like a natural alarm clock,” Levy said.
Kevin is no fly-by-night therapy animal. He’s been checked over by a veterinarian and is certified by the National Service Animal Registry. Granted, the registry is a private, for-profit, Colorado-based company. But nevertheless, Kevin has a certificate with his picture on it.
The better test, perhaps, is what Kevin and other pets provide to people.
“It’s unconditional love,” Levy said. “Humans, by nature, judge. A lot of those clients have been judged their whole lives because of their addictions.”
But not everybody loves Kevin, apparently. McAlister Institute pays a price for the rooster’s presence.
The program receives clients from the Napa County Health and Human Services Agency and Napa County Probation Department. The combined contracts total about $792,000 annually, according to county records. No problem for Kevin there.
A third source of clients are state parolees steered to the program by a state contractor, Center Point of San Rafael. Levy said this arrangement helps with the program’s finances.
Center Point considers Kevin “a farm animal” instead of an emotional support animal, Levy said. It won’t enroll more state clients until Kevin leaves. It usually enrolls about 50 parolees annually.
Officials with Center Point couldn’t be reached for a comment.
McAlister Institute is standing by its rooster. Even so, Kevin’s long-term future is uncertain because Napa County put the contract for its programs out to bid last year. A neutral selection committee chose Center Point as the new operator. County officials said a contract is being worked on and the goal is to have Center Point start in July.
Kevin will have a soft landing somewhere, whether on a farm or as a therapy animal at another location. Levy doesn’t want to leave Kevin behind when the McAlister Institute transitions out, given that Center Point apparently doesn’t want the rooster.
For now, Kevin continues to prove that a rooster can be soft and cuddly.
“It’s amazing, huh?” Levy said as a client gave Kevin a hug and then went on to give Kevin a kiss on the beak.